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What is an Electric Baseboard Heater?

By Matt McKay
Updated May 17, 2024
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An electric baseboard heater contains internal heating elements that heat room air by convection. Convection is the natural process of air circulation created by heated air rising to replace cooler air, and requires no fan or blower device. There are many types of electric heaters, but electric baseboard heaters are low-profile in construction, and designed to fit unobtrusively against wall baseboards. Electric baseboard heaters generally are available as either portable models for room-to-room use or permanent installation models.

Rooms that are seldom used or are new additions to a home or building will sometimes use an electric baseboard heater for ease of installation. The ability to turn the unit on and off independent of the main heating system can make economic sense for occasional use. Some homes, buildings, and apartments, however, exclusively use electric heat since it does not require the installation of a central boiler or air heating unit.

The economics of using an electric baseboard heater over other types is directly related to the fluctuating costs of electricity, natural gas, and home heating oil. Overall purchase and installation of electric units is usually cheaper than traditional systems but the operational costs should also be considered. Insulation of the heated area typically is important with any heating system for maximum efficiency and cost-savings.

Electric baseboard heaters are fitted with thermostats that are either located on the unit itself for portable installations or hardwired into the wall for permanently installed units. Thermostats are set to the desired room temperature, turn the heater off when the temperature is reached, and turn it on when the temperature drops. Temperature limit switches inside the heater limit the maximum temperature the heater is capable of reaching for safe operation. The electrical wiring that connects the unit depends on the heater type. Portable heaters have an electrical cord that plugs into a wall outlet while permanent units are hard-wired into the electrical system.

An electric baseboard heater is considered a safe, clean, and low-maintenance heating appliance since it emits no flame or carbon monoxide. Since the units run on electricity, the environmental impact is passed on to the electric utility company. Maintenance of the heater is minimal, and only requires periodic dusting of the external surface and vacuuming of the surrounding areas and heater openings. A person typically should follow manufacturer's installation and placement instructions, and keep the heater away from drapes and furniture.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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